Can a grease filter save energy?
EAGLE COUNTY – Good ideas sometimes get a second chance. That could be the case with Dragon Fire, a device its backers say could dramatically cut restaurants’ utility bills.
The idea may be getting a second chance now, thanks to changes in industry standards and a renewed interest in saving energy.
Chef Bob Prasser invented the Dragon Fire while working at a Vail restaurant in the early 1990s. He’d seen a presentation for a cooktop ventilator hood that could be cleaned with a built-in water bath. Prasser thought the device was a good idea, sort of. But Prasser thought about water in a vent hood, then thought about all the heat that goes into the air through those hoods, and the idea for Dragon Fire was born.
Using the grease filter part of the hood, Prasser ran water through plumbing that sort of resembled an automotive radiator, right down to the aluminum fins on the outside. Cold water going through the filter was heated to 120 degrees or more by the time it came out the other side, while the cool water going into the filter lowered the temperature of the airborne grease, thus making it easier to capture.
Not long after Prasser had hammered out his prototype, friend Jocko Galvin came on board as an investor and backer.
The then-new company sold a handful of systems to local restaurants, but didn’t get much further. The aluminum fins on the first models clogged easily, and the fins were easy to break during cleaning.
Ultimately, the industry just wasn’t interested, Galvin said. While the idea lay dormant for more than a decade, Prasser and Galvin always kept control of the idea. Galvin stayed in the valley, but Prasser moved from the Vail Valley to Wisconsin.
Now, though, Galvin and Prasser are touting a new and improved Dragon Fire, and industry types are starting to pay attention. Part of the reason for the new interest is new industry standards regarding how fresh air needs to be routed through exhaust and filter systems, Galvin said. There’s also more awareness of energy use today.
New filters have been made – by Michigan’s Blissfield Manufacturing – that have ditched the fins in favor of Teflon-coated copper tubing. The new filter is about as sleek as a piece of kitchen equipment that doubles as plumbing is ever going to get.
Prasser has sold a few systems, and has an agreement with a Texas-based company that distributes hot water systems.
The filter has passed muster with Nicor, a northern Illinois utility company, which recently awarded an energy-savings subsidy to a restaurant that installed a Dragon Fire. For now, though, Galvin and Prasser continue to beat the drum for their reborn device.
“Not many people get a second chance at a great idea,” Galvin said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.
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